The Breakthrough Junior Challenge has announced its 2023 finalists and regional winners. The annual competition invites students worldwide to create short, engaging videos about physics, maths, and life sciences subjects. Emerging from a pool of over 2,400 applicants, this year’s ultimate winner will receive a life-changing $250,000 college scholarship. Their school will receive a $100,000 science lab, and a teacher who inspired them will receive $50,000 in cash.
Since its launch in 2015, Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Junior Challenge has received 25,000 submissions from over 200 countries. His Breakthrough Foundation sponsors the competition and other non-profit programmes. These programmes include Tech For Refugees, the Breakthrough Prize, and the Breakthrough Initiatives.
Yuri Milner’s 2023 Breakthrough Junior Challenge Finalists
After passing through several judging phases, 15 finalists have entered the final round of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. A Selection Committee will now review the videos and decide the winner for 2023.
The Selection Committee consists of science correspondents, current and former astronauts, university professors, and top scholars. Two Selection Committee members are Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics laureates. A third Selection Committee member, Dr Pete Worden, is the Breakthrough Prize Foundation chairman and executive director of the Breakthrough Initiatives.
Here’s a recap of the 2023 Breakthrough Junior Challenge finalists’ videos:
Pedro Aguilar, 17, Mexico
Pedro’s video illustrates how machine learning and neural networks function. He explains that whenever we complete an online CAPTCHA test, we’re helping computers learn to recognise images the way humans can.
Computers use the images we classify in CAPTCHA tests to tweak calculus functions until the computers’ final response matches those classifications.
Alyssa Childress, 16, United States
Alyssa’s animated video sheds light on how hand-to-arm amputees can benefit from myoelectric prosthetics.
Doctors use surface or intramuscular electrodes to connect electric signals from a person’s nerves to their prosthetic. Pattern recognition algorithms then use data from electromyography tests to find each person’s unique nerve signal pattern.
Sia Godika, 17, India
Sia’s video explores the Yamanaka factors. This group of gene transcription factors can trick specialised cells (e.g. nerve and muscle cells) into turning back into stem cells. Stem cells have the potential to become any cell type in the body.
The Yamanaka factors have a host of applications, from disease modelling to developing personalised drugs. The factors could help us fight age-related diseases or elongate the span of a human life.
Arjun Gurjar, 17, United States
Arjun’s video summarises how we can use viruses to cure diseases. Retroviruses like HIV and herpes can insert their genes into the genomes in our cells. This process can cause mutations that can make cells cancerous. However, scientists can insert desirable genes into retroviruses and use them to cure dementia, cancer, and other diseases.
Cheng-You Ho, 16, Taiwan
Cheng-You’s video tells the story of neutrinos. Produced by the sun, trillions of these tiny particles pass through our bodies every second.
According to the standard model of particle physics, neutrinos don’t have mass. But in 2001, physicists discovered that neutrinos can switch between three different particle types: electrons, taus, and muons.
As this conversion is only possible if the particles have mass, the discovery proved the standard model of particle physics wrong.
Himanshu Jangid, 16, United States
Himanshu’s video explains how CRISPR gene editing works. He uses animation to clarify how scientists use an enzyme called CAS9 to remove, add, or edit DNA sequences. CRISPR has a range of applications, from preventing infectious diseases to treating genetic disorders and creating high-yield crops.
Noelle Nelson, 17, United States
Noelle’s video explores the age-old debate of nature vs nurture and epigenetics. Discovered in the 1940s, epigenetics is the study of how environmental and behavioural factors change genomes. Researchers have shown that exposure to certain environmental factors, such as metals or pollutants, correlates to changes in one epigenetic regulation classification.
Bayanni Rivera, 18, United States
Bayanni’s video looks at the crisis in cosmology: pinning down the exact rate of expansion of the Universe.
The video opens with a visual representation — raisin bread baking in the oven — to demonstrate this cosmological expansion. The bread expands as it bakes, and all raisins on its surface move away from each other. Similarly, galaxies are moving away from each other as space expands.
Hans de los Santos, 16, United States
Hans’ video dives into the mystery of antimatter. Currently, scientists are unsure why there’s so much matter in the Universe and so little antimatter. Physicists are getting closer to an answer thanks to experiments with neutrinos and antineutrinos.
Conner Sisemore, 17, United States
Conner’s video clarifies the difference between selective breeding and genetically modifying organisms, especially concerning crops. The video uses computer-generated and stop-motion animation to explain how scientists have genetically modified corn to make it more resistant to pests.
Ishanth Srinivas, 17, United States
In his video, Ishanth unpacks a concept from physics called Bose-Einstein condensate. Drastically lowering the temperature of a group of bosons would create Bose-Einstein condensate or the fifth state of matter.
The video also explains what temperature means in terms of energy levels and how scientists use wave functions to describe boson particles.
Sophia Tran, 16, United States
Sophia’s video illustrates how the neurotransmitter dopamine enables us to enjoy certain foods. She also explains the structure of neurons and the idea of neurotransmitter switching. Additionally, Sophia reveals that certain diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, result from high or low levels of neurotransmitters.
Honjar Xing, 16, Canada
Honjar’s video explores Eulerian circuits and how to tell whether you can draw a diagram in one stroke. Eulerian circuits form the basis of graph theory, a fundamental theorem of discrete mathematics. These circuits have several applications, including AI algorithms and DNA decoding.
Adora Yin, 15, Hong Kong
Adora’s video looks at the science behind taking a photo. When light enters through the camera aperture on a phone, a lens arrangement focuses the light onto an image sensor. This sensor is a chip with millions of photodiodes, each representing a single pixel. The video also explains how colour filter arrays and interpolation algorithms produce coloured images.
Isaac Zhang, 18, United States
Isaac’s video explains how machine learning can help us diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in patients earlier than ever before.
The video focuses on the TAU protein, which typically helps stabilise axon microtubules. PET scans can give us data on the location and chemical state of these proteins. Computers then analyse this data to assess an individual’s risk of Alzheimer’s.
The 2023 Popular Vote Regional Champions
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge invites the world to take part in its judging process during the Popular Vote. During this judging stage, members of the public vote for their favourite semi-finalists by “liking” the videos on the Breakthrough Prize Facebook and YouTube pages.
This year, the Popular Vote ran from September 5-20. Over 16 days, the 30 semi-finalists’ videos reached more than 500,000 people, inspiring and enlightening minds around the world.
Hans de los Santos was the overall top scorer in the Popular Vote and the regional champion for North America. His video received more than 8,000 likes and will automatically enter the final judging round.
Two other finalists were also Popular Vote regional champions: Sia Godika is the regional champion for India and Cheng-You Ho is the regional champion for Asia.
These are the other four Popular Vote regional champions:
Jasmine Eyal, 15, Czech Republic
Jasmine is the Popular Vote regional champion for Europe. Her video explains quantum navigation, which could provide an alternative navigation method to the global positioning system (GPS). Researchers have already successfully tested a quantum navigation device on a Royal Navy ship.
Brandon Kwok, 16, Australia
Brandon is the Popular Vote regional champion for Australia and New Zealand. His video uses the analogy of tossing coins to explain the difference between binary and quantum computing and the phenomenon of quantum entanglement.
Jeffrin Mario, 17, United Arab Emirates
Jeffrin is the Popular Vote regional champion for the Middle East and Africa. His video explores how scientists could use metamaterials to create a real-life invisibility cloak or reduce earthquake damage.
Rupali Mishra, 17, Brazil
Rupali is the Popular Vote regional champion for Central and South America. Her video uses the analogy of a bakery to simplify and spell out the stages of the menstrual cycle.
Watch the Breakthrough Junior Challenge 2023 finalists and popular vote winners’ videos.
About Yuri Milner
Yuri Milner is the founder of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge and the author of Eureka Manifesto.
Milner signed the Giving Pledge in 2012, committing the majority of his wealth to chiefly science-focused enterprises. These enterprises include the Breakthrough Prize, the Breakthrough Initiatives, and Tech For Refugees.
The Breakthrough Prize celebrates scientists who are paving the way for change in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics. They receive rewards of up to $3 million and high-level recognition for their industry-leading research.
The Breakthrough Initiatives are multi-million-dollar astronomical programmes. Launched in 2015, the Breakthrough Initiatives investigate the fundamental questions of life in the Universe.
Milner established Tech For Refugees in 2022 in response to the emergency in Ukraine. Tech For Refugees seeks to address the global refugee crisis through tech-enabled programmers.